This is a big week for local government in Wapello County. We’ll find out who the finalists for the Ottumwa school district’s new superintendent are, and the city is hosting an event to give people an in-depth look at the proposed comprehensive plan.
Both have the potential to shape Ottumwa for years to come. It’s probably easier to see that potential with the hiring of a new superintendent. A good pick will help the district in myriad ways. It’s help the district needs. While there has been improvement in Ottumwa’s graduation figures and other measurements in the past decade, it is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done.
The district needs to find a leader who can both direct the schools toward those improvements and maintain the respect of those who work for the district. It’s not a simple balance sometimes. Change isn’t always easy. It isn’t always accepted quickly. But the alternative is complacency, and that’s not acceptable either.
It’s remarkable how quickly the trust can be shattered. During the last school board meeting, the district named principals as Level I investigators for allegations of abuse among students. They’re mandatory reporters. But the same can be said for late last year, when district officials tried to reprimand a mandatory reporter for doing her job. It’s impossible to argue that action helped bolster trust and cooperation within the district.
The city’s comprehensive plan may have more potential effects for the community than the selection of a superintendent does for the school district, but that potential is far less guaranteed. A plan can only be effective if the people charged with following it do so. That’s why it’s far more frequent for cities’ plans to be trumpeted loudly and then shelved than for them to become true maps for the coming years.
As we’ve said before, that comes down to the council members. The council cannot be forced to follow its plan. It can be reminded. Members can be cajoled. They cannot, once elected to office, be compelled.
That’s especially true when the council members face financial restrictions. Ottumwa’s finances are clearly not where they need to be, a situation worsened by the current pandemic. Alarms are being sounded at City Hall, and that’s to the credit of those raising the concerns. It will not be easy to balance the ambitions of the completed plan with the financial realities Ottumwa faces.
We hope people pay attention to both of these developments. We’ll be following them, and we’ll report as they happen. But, again, there’s a difference between having the information available and doing something with it. We can only ensure the former.
Ottumwa has big decisions to make in the coming months. They won’t be simple. These are not simple times, and we should not expect simple answers.
They are important, though. Those who wish for our community to take the steps it will need to take in order to improve would do well to pay attention now. Begin learning about what is needed and how our elected officials plan to get there. It takes time to understand what questions need to be asked and how to spot incomplete answers.
This is a big week. We hope Ottumwans are ready.